Ten Possibilities for Green Building Over the Next Decade

In this month’s column (“10 for ‘20”), I list 10 possibilities for the green building industry over the next decade. To supplement my own list, I asked a number of people, including the entire listserv of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), to suggest their own, and I’m featuring some of these responses here this month. The simple question I put to them was this: “What do you feel could or should be the most important developments in the practice and pursuit of ‘sustainable design’ in coming years?”

Victor Olgyay is a principal architect with the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Built Environment Team. He sees future buildings as “Green Machines,” factories for the production of ecological infrastructures.

1. Retrofits! (No, not your father’s version!) Deep (50 percent or better) energy savings in existing buildings will become a booming industry.

2. Zero-energy new building construction will become the standard over the next decade, residential and commercial. Laboratories will remain energy pigs.

3. The distributed electrical building / transportation / utility network becomes a reality. First, buildings with grid tied photovoltaics (PVs), then the smart grid (with smart buildings that have “social networking” features), then buildings with plug-ins for electric vehicles, then load shedding with storage in networked automobile batteries, and eventually, enough distributed storage and generation is developed to shut down coal plants. (Ok, maybe 15 years out.)

4. PVs on everything.

5. Ecological Footprinting of buildings, or capacity analysis, becomes the standard for measuring building performance.

6. Remediation / Restoration / generation of ecosystem services as a building program element. Buildings produce more clean water than they use, harvest nutrients from sewers, absorb atmospheric CO2 and generate biofuels, provide habitat for pollinators, and become a net-positive impact on the environment. As our environment gets more crowded and polluted, ecosystem services become a fungible commodity, making the generation of ecosystem services economically viable.

7. Believable embodied energy data becomes available in a form usable by architects.

8. Widespread application of Life-Cycle cost analysis methods will make the business case for energy efficiency ubiquitous.

9. The growth of urban agriculture. Buildings and landscapes finally merge, green walls, residential scale hydroponics, greenhouse kits and rooftop farms become the new black. Growing cheap desirable local organic produce becomes the smart “cool” thing to do.

10. All of the above leads to the flowering of our new green economy. Jobs, localized economics, reduced dependence on transportation, greater social equity, cleaner living with less waste, more composting and recycling, happy healthy children and world peace. (OK, maybe 20 years out.)

(Originally published in Architect on May 20, 2010)